Main Engine Cut Off

T+101: Starlink Addendum

As I was recording yesterday’s show about Starlink, SpaceX filed an application with the FCC for some changes to the Starlink plan. I read through the report and it confirms some of what I talked about yesterday, so thought it was worth an update.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 34 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous—and 195 other supporters on Patreon.

Ball Aerospace Gets $255 Million for WSF-M 1

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado, has been awarded a $255,418,494 firm-fixed-price contract modification (P00008) to previously awarded contract FA8810-18-C-0002 for the Weather System Follow-on Microwave. This contract modification provides for the exercise of an option for development and fabrication of the Weather System Follow-on Microwave Space Vehicle 1. Work will be performed in Boulder, Colorado, and is expected to be completed by Jan. 15, 2023.

We knew Ball had won this last year, but this is confirmation of an option for the first of two spacecraft. From that original press release:

This new environmental satellite system leverages the Ball-built Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Microwave Imager (GMI) instrument, which is the on-orbit reference standard for calibrating precipitation measurements in NASA's GPM constellation.

GPM is amazing and was one of the best parts of my trip to Goddard.

DARPA Launch Challenge Sites and Teams

DARPA has shortlisted 8 launch sites—5 vertical and 3 horizontal—for the still-really-odd-to-me DARPA Launch Challenge. Nothing really surprising about the launch sites they picked, but this tidbit in Jeff Foust’s SpaceNews article is quite interesting:

DARPA also announced Nov. 6 that 18 teams had passed the first step in the competition, a pre-qualification phase. In that phase, DARPA confirmed that the teams had proposed “a viable solution for flexible and responsive launch,” according to its statement. DARPA didn’t list the teams that completed pre-qualification but plans to later identify the teams that complete the overall qualification phase.

That is a ton of teams—18!—competing for this. If it was DARPA’s intention to shake some stealth mode launch companies out of the shadows, it seems like maybe they’ve done that.

T+100: Midterms, and a Thought on Starlink

I share some space-focused takeaways from the US midterm elections and a thought that I had about recent Starlink reports.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 34 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous—and 194 other supporters on Patreon.

Midterms and Space

Jeff Foust wrote a great rundown of the space implications of the midterms that’s worth reading this morning.

Couple of notes:

  • Rep. Culberson lost his seat. That could—and probably will—have massive negative implications for the Europa missions he’s nearly-single-handedly been pushing so hard.
  • Senator Nelson lost his seat in Florida. That means we no longer have to hear his anecdote about looking back at his family homestead right before stepping onto the Space Shuttle in 1986. It also means the Senate lost a senior member of the space committee, who was a very vocal supporter of extending the ISS to 2030. Yet to be seen if that really matters, but it is notable.
  • It’s still close, but Rep. Rohrabacher looks to be on the way out, as well. Among other implications, we no longer have to hear bullshit like this.
  • The House flipped, which means that all the committees get new leadership. That shifts the leverage that members have, and with it, the committee priorities, which could impact space a bit.

Keep an eye out to see how the new members of Congress from Texas, Florida, California, and other space strongholds position themselves over the next few months.

Thanks to October Patrons

Very special thanks to the 224 of you out there supporting Main Engine Cut Off on Patreon for the month of October. Your support keeps this blog and podcast going, and most importantly, it keeps it independent.

And a huge thanks to the 34 executive producers of Main Engine Cut Off: Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous executive producers. I could not do this without your support, and I am extremely grateful for it.

There are some great perks for those supporting on Patreon, too. At $3 a month, you get access to the MECO Headlines podcast feed—every Friday, I run through the headlines of the week and discuss the stories that didn’t make it into the main show. And at $5 a month, you’ll get advance notice of guest appearances with the ability to contribute questions and topics to the show, and you get access to the Off-Nominal Discord—a place to hang out and discuss all things space.

We’re also getting pretty close to a goal I’ve had listen on Patreon for a while—at $1,000 a month, I’m planning on starting to stream shows and special events live!

If you want to get in on some of those perks, help us reach the streaming goal, or if you’re getting some value out of what I do here and just want to send a little value back to help support Main Engine Cut Off, head over to Patreon and do it there.

There are other ways to help support, too: head over to the shop and buy yourself a shirt or a pair of Rocket Socks, tell a friend, or post a link to something I’m writing or talking about on Twitter or in your favorite subreddit. Spreading the word is an immense help to an independent creator like myself.

Linkspace’s Forced Perspective

Andrew Jones, for gbtimes, on Linkspace’s Grasshopper:

The RLV-T5 technology demonstrator will attempt vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) and is designed to verify key technologies including variable thrust, multiple engine restarts and roll control with its flight and recovery tests, according to a press release (Chinese).

This follows development of smaller scale rockets such as the RLV-T3 for VTVL and hover tests performed early in 2018, similar to demonstrations by Masten Space Systems.

Earlier this month Linkspace held successful ignition tests with five RLV-T5 engines, creating the colourful shock diamonds or Mach rings seen in the exhaust plume.

Linkspace is interesting to follow along with, and I’m excited to see how they do with their bigger hardware. But check out the photo in the article—they consistently use forced perspective like this to make their hardware look enormous.

It’s certainly bigger than their last demonstrator, but they make it look huge by positioning a building way in the background, then a guy a good distance behind the RLV-T5, and even the transporter is parked on an angle, so that the rocket is closer to the camera than everything else.

They did the same thing with their tethered hopper flights at the beginning of the year. A clever PR strategy, but sometimes some real scale and context would be nice.

Maxar Looking to Sell SSL

Caleb Henry, SpaceNews:

“Our primary path remains to sell the business,” Lance said Oct. 31 during an earnings call. “We have multiple interested parties. We are in discussions and are still hopeful to have an answer that we can announce between now and the end of the year.”

Several satellites SSL has under construction will take weeks or months longer to complete thanks to defective components from a supplier Maxar declined to name. Lance said the component problem is driving up costs and exacerbating profit loss in space hardware.

Tough times for SSL, but it’ll be incredibly interesting to see who scoops them up.

T+99: October Q&A

This month, I take on questions about small launch, future space ventures, and the Boeing/SLS saga/drama.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 34 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous—and 191 other supporters on Patreon.

T+98: Gateway Logistics Services

NASA released a request for information this week about cargo services to the Gateway—big news for the future of NASA and the Gateway. I break down the technical and non-technical bits of that announcement, as well as some updates on Space Force and the Soyuz situation.

This episode of Main Engine Cut Off is brought to you by 34 executive producers—Kris, Pat, Matt, Jorge, Brad, Ryan, Jamison, Nadim, Peter, Donald, Lee, Jasper, Chris, Warren, Bob, Russell, John, Moritz, Joel, Jan, David, Grant, Mike, David, Mints, Joonas, and eight anonymous—and 189 other supporters on Patreon.